Toned All Over on the Beach, Why You Need to Build Muscle

If you want to look lean and toned when you lose weight then you need to build some muscle. 

"I don't know if gaining weight each week is what I'm looking for." A woman told me this when we began talking about her plan. The idea of eating more to look better is a hard one if you've never tried to build any muscle but, it's exactly what you need if you want to look good all over. When you finally lean out you'll look even better!

How to Gain Muscle

Growing new muscle can be described in a few different ways. It's been referred to as increasing cross sectional area of muscle. The way you go about this is through progressively increasing the difficulty of your workouts. No you're not "confusing" your muscles, you're changing the stimulus by manipulating all of the different variables.

What sort of sets, reps and weights you need to grow new muscle

Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is the author of one of the most up to date books on the current research on muscular growth commonly called hypertrophy. He has a pretty dense but great blog where he talks about his training and all of the research he's doing academically comically and fittingly called 

In his book Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy, which can be found here, he mentions this on how many reps beginners need to optimally grow new muscle:

Multiset routines totaling 40 to 70 repetitions per muscle group per session can be considered a general guideline for those with limited training experience. More advanced lifters seem to require greater volumes to maximize muscle protein accretion, perhaps double that of untrained people

Using this as a landmark we can begin to put together a training program that also applies these guidelines and current recommendations for hypertrophy:

  • Sets: 1-3 for beginners, ≥3
  • Rest time 30-90 seconds or 2 minutes (this is actually interestingly where the science is unclear)
  • Repetitions: 6-12

The reason why the science is unclear is because the shorter rest times would allow you to potentially gain metabolic benefits from training at that intensity but the longer rest times would allow you to lift a greater volume load which is also associated with greater hypertrophy. Which is better? It's not clear yet so you can devote blocks of training devoted to each.

Now there is novel hypertrophy at all repetition ranges ex 1-20, but it is typically accepted that this goal is emphasized within the 6-12 rep range. Now that you have that information you can go about organizing your weekly routine. 

What Your Program Might Look Like

Organizing exercises is one of the questions that comes up when you wonder how often you need to workout.There are several ways to split up your routine. Here's an example of how you might go about it:

  • Full-body: Probably one of the most common. In every session you work all of the muscles that you're trying to get training adaptations in.
  • Upper/Lower: Separating all of your lifting into upper body and lower body sessions. One day might consist of lifts like bench, rowing and curling. Another day might consist of things like squatting, thrusting and lunging.
  • Push/Pull: Sometimes this split can be a little confusing because some of the lower body lifts can be hard to put in the "push" or "pull" categories. A subset of this might also be a Push/Pull/Legs split which is a hybrid between this and Upper/Lower.
  • Body Part Split Training: Chest, Back, Legs, Shoulders, Arms etc. This is another split where you can think of training each individual muscle group in it's own session or in a similar combination to that of some of the other splits; chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and abs, legs.

Frequency is associated with greater strength training benefits and some splits allow more of this than others by the nature of their organization. You want to take 48 hours rest before working a muscle group again but no more than 72. If you worked out with a full body routine you might only train 2x a week Monday/Thursday, Tuesday/Friday for Example. That would follow the no more than 3 days between session guideline, if you worked your chest every Monday and took a full week to get back to it, depending on your level of experience and hypertrophy, this could be really bad for your results!

The best advice is to pick a split that works all of the areas you want to improve and fits your schedule. Sure you can workout 6 days a week if you have the time and experience to do so but, it might not be the best fit for you.

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